Monday, August 08, 2005

Why I just can't take the idea that Calvinism is biblical seriously

As a theological system, Calvinism is interesting. It’s not one I particularly like, or would want to adopt myself, but as far as theological systems go it’s fairly clearly plausible and coherent. The problem comes when I hear people saying that “Calvinism is what the Bible teaches”.

Now we all know that there are lot of individual statements in the Bible that look (or can be made to look) like they are advocating Calvinism. This is not really surprising: The Bible is big and when you’ve got enough material to choose from you can make a case for any viewpoint. However, let us consider God’s interactions with Israel throughout the Old Testament. Israel is following him, then they turn away from him. God waits for them to come back, he makes statements like “I held out my hands all day long to a rebellious people”.

God holds out his hands to a rebellious people. What does this actually mean, in light of Calvinistic doctrine, how ought we to understand such a statement? Well, we can say that if they are rebellious, then they are rebellious because God hasn’t regenerated them. God must in fact have predestined them to be rebellious. Yet here God is making statements about how he’s ready to receive them. If he was ready to receive them he would have regenerated them, and if he’d regenerated them they would have come. In this way, Calvinism translates all complaints God makes about man into complaints God makes about his own acts of foreordination. God is portrayed at getting upset about men’s deeds, yet their deeds are what they are due to God’s foreordination - and their deeds would have been different if God had foreordained something different: so he is in fact getting upset at the situation that he himself has foreordained. In this way, all the actions of God in the world are rendered into nonsense: men are already doing what they do because God has decided they would do it. If it ever happens that God needs to correct the situation, then he must have made a mistake earlier when he foreordained the current situation and is now correcting his mistake. If it happens that he doesn’t like the current situation, then he’s effectively objecting to his own earlier decision to foreordain the situation to occur. Consider the Old Testament prophets who brought messages from God that the people ought to turn from their wickedness. We may ask: What was the point of such a message? The people who God hasn’t regenerated can’t turn from their wickedness no matter what the prophets say. Those people whom God has regenerated will turn from their wickedness no matter what the prophets say. In this way, Calvinism renders everything the prophets ever said, did, or wrote as a pointless waste of time.

In short, Calvinism means that God is depicted acting moronically throughout the Bible:
1) He moans about the present that he himself foreordained;
2) He tries to talk people into following him when he is well aware they cannot follow him because he has deliberately chosen not to enable them to do so.

That is simply a ludicrous depiction of God and that is why I cannot for even one second take Calvinism remotely seriously as a biblical theology. This is not a matter of any one scripture, but a matter of considering scripture as a whole. Anyone remotely familiar with the Bible’s depiction of God’s interactions with Israel knows well that God is at many and various times depicted as being unhappy with Israel’s behaviour. He is depicted exhorting and cajoling them to repent, to turn back to him. He sends to them many prophets and messengers, some of whom they follow and listen to and others whom they do not. Yet consider Calvinism’s picture of man and God: That man cannot possibly turn to God without God acting upon him supernaturally to regenerate him, in which case the regenerated man would inevitably turn to and follow God. In the Old Testament in his interactions with Israel, God seems ignorant of this. He calls to Israel, he pleads with them, any reader could certainly be forgiven for thinking that God really wanted Israel to repent, and that God really was upset about what Israel was currently doing. This is not a matter of one or two passages, that we could look at individually, this is a matter of Genesis to Malachi, this is a theme that spans the entire Old Testament. God clearly hasn’t realised the Calvinistic Truths: that He is sovereign and the world is the way it is it is because He wanted it to be that way, so it is nonsensical of Him to complain about the way Israel are acting; that Israel simply cannot follow him unless he regenerates them which he has chosen not do. Calvinism, we see, renders the entire Old Testament nonsense... God complaining about what he has foreordained? God trying to get Israel to follow him when he himself has prevented them from doing so? The entire Old Testament might as well say "lksfdjgag" for all the sense it makes under such a reading: Calvinism simply renders vast tracts of the Bible as complete and utter nonsense. The entire length of God's interactions with man (ie most of the Old Testament = Israel + the prophets) seems to be rendered meaningless and void in light of these to things. In terms of Biblical theology Calvinism seems to be a non-starter as it implicitly denies a large proportion of the Bible.

37 Comments:

Blogger EONsim said...

Congratulations for a good explanation that I fully support. Though I see you didn't directly point out that if you follow it through to it's logical conclusion "God becomes the root of all evil" which humans then apparently get blamed for.

8/8/05  
Blogger Andrew said...

Well making God evil is a logical conclusion rather than a Biblical one. ie I agree that it makes God evil, and that is one reason I don't like Calvinism, but there is nothing wrong per see with a theological system that claims God is evil.

9/8/05  
Blogger Scott said...

God complaining about what he has foreordained?

Isa 53:10 "But the LORD was pleased To crush Him."

...

Mar 8:31 "And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed"

...

Act 2:22-23 "Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know-- this {Man,} delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put {Him} to death."

A complicated situation isn't it. God must have dissapproved of the evil act of killing the Son of God. But in another sense he did approve because it was done according to the will of God.

Relevant to this topic also is a message by Piper on Edward's "Is God Less Glorious Because He Ordained that Evil Be?"

9/8/05  
Blogger Andrew said...

A complicated situation isn't it.

No.

God wanted Christ's message preached. God could predict that the Jewish authorities would not respond well to that message. God used the knowledge that the authorities would kill Jesus as part of his plan for what Jesus was to do. Nothing complicated, and God in no way ordained evil nor compelled the authorities to kill Jesus any more than any other criminal who falls afoul of authorities can be said to ordain the authorities actions.

9/8/05  
Blogger five star afro said...

that also can be applied to the pharoah situation back in moses day. was it god's fault, because he hardened pharaohs heart, that egypt got nailed?

9/8/05  
Blogger Andrew said...

I'm not sure which argument you're referring to Adam. Could you clarify?

9/8/05  
Blogger five star afro said...

i think your referring to me?!

did god harden pharoah's heart just to show off? did he consider pharoah an acceptable sacrifice in return for the isrealites getting to canaan? what is this hardening that happens in ex 7:3, 7:13? Does pharoah have a case against god?

10/8/05  
Blogger Scott said...

Ok, so it's not that complicated.

Because if God had ordained a plan which involved Jesus' death,
and in order to die someone had to kill him,
then he was ordaining something which meant an evil act had to occur.

The situation you pose is actually more contrived. You can't compare this situation simply to an authority laying down a law, and then waiting for a crimal to disobey.

10/8/05  
Blogger Andrew said...

5 star afro,
Presumably the God hardening Pharoah's heart is a figure of speech similar to "You made me angry". We never mean that the person has reached inside our head and manipulated us into being angry, we mean that the person has done something and we have responded by becoming angry. The only reason we don't read "God hardened Pharoah's heart" in exactly the same vein is because we have been taught not to. The text itself uses the phrase interchangably with "Pharoah hardened his heart".

Regardless, I am not particularly interested in looking at and responding to individual proof-texts here, I'm more concerned about the bigger picture I discussed in my original post.


Scott,
His plan took into account the fact that he could predict an evil act would occur. That is quite different to the idea that he ordained the evil act. As I said, I can know that if I break the law I will get arrested, go break the law, and then get myself arrested, yet in doing so I have not ordained that the authorities arrest me. I would not be responsible for their actions. Similarly Jesus is not responsible for the authority's actions in arresting him, he cannot be said to have ordained their actions simply because he could predict that if he taught against the authorities he would get arrested. I can predict that if I go kill someone then I would get arrested, but I wouldn't be ordaining the authority's actions.

10/8/05  
Blogger Dan said...

Here is a simple question:

Is God sovereign?

10/8/05  
Blogger Jim said...

Here's a less simple one....

What dose "sovereign" actually mean?

10/8/05  
Blogger Dan said...

Let's start with this dictionary definition.

10/8/05  
Blogger Andrew said...

Given the dictionary defintion, God is sovereign.

10/8/05  
Anonymous Nato said...

I disagree - God isn't a gold coin formerly used in Great Britain.

10/8/05  
Blogger Jim said...

but he probably is self governing....

10/8/05  
Blogger Dan said...

I had assumed that my use of the word as an adjective would have helped narrow down the definition.

But Nato, I'm afraid I have to agree with you - God is not a gold coin formerly used in Great Britain.

10/8/05  
Blogger Andrew said...

Presumably Dan did have a point he was intending to make... Dan could you explain it to us rather than keeping us guessing?

10/8/05  
Blogger Scott said...

Andrew,
I can see that Jesus aggravating people into killing him is an indirect connection, but that wasn't what I was talking about. Neither was I primarily concerned with the implications of personal responsibility. You are dodging my comment by avoiding the fact that God had a plan. A plan to have Jesus killed. I wasn't talking about the surrounding circumstances which led to Jesus' death. I was talking about God's plan. Not 'idea' or 'wish', but his plan.

10/8/05  
Blogger Andrew said...

Scott, well I'm confused about your argument. If you think it's worthwhile, perhaps you can explain clearly, step by step, what your premises are and what exactly the conclusion shows.

10/8/05  
Blogger five star afro said...

you guys will be doing well if you can explain this, taking into account that God knows whats gonna happen before it happens, the whole outside of time thing.

we assume that god knows what is going to happen before it happens, he created us as we are.
Therefore God knows whether we are going to choose to follow him or not.

Is god creating people he knows are going to go to hell?

11/8/05  
Blogger Dan said...

The Lord created us with free will, so that we could freely worship Him of our own accord.

Which we did for a while, until we chose not to and listened to Satan over God, hence we sinned and lost our free will to worship God of our own accord. And since this has affected each and every one of us, we have all earned and are deserving of eternity in hell (another subject under debate) - separation from God.

This is right and just, according to God.

Subsequently, if he wants to provide a way in which he can save people, and if he only chooses some people and not others, that is all entirely up to Him, and is not something we can question or even understand, unless of course we think we know better than God.

Why is it more difficult than that?

11/8/05  
Blogger Andrew said...

Well 5 Star, I don't think God always does know what's going to happen before it happens, because the future is uncertain due to man's free will. So I would say that God doesn't create anyone with knowledge that they are going to hell.

But, certainly, the idea that God creates people in the knowledge that they are going to hell is another thing I find unattractive (and unbiblical) about Calvinism.

11/8/05  
Blogger Scott said...

Andrew,
Well that's something you should find unattractive about Arminianism also, because it also teaches that God creates people who he knows will go to hell.

Re, my argument.
1. God had a plan which involved the murder of Jesus. This is something that he not only predicted would happen, but purposed would happen. It was his will.
2. In order for Jesus to be murdered, people had to murder him.
3. Part of God's ordained plan in sending Jesus involved ordaining an evil act.

11/8/05  
Blogger Andrew said...

Yeah, I don't like Arminianism either. It's historically too much based on Calvinism, so it shares many of the same problems. It also has additional problems with inconsistency as because it attempts to modify some of the problems with Calvinism, but in only a half-hearted way, it makes the resulting system inconsistent.


I don't see how you get the last step to ordaining. Sure God's plan was that the authorities would execute Jesus, and through it he sought to achieve a greater good. Just like in chess, I might put a knight where I think you'll take it in order to set up a trap whereby I can win your queen. But no one would say that I have "ordained" the opponent taking my knight. I planned, I hoped, I willed, but I didn't ordain. So why do you want to say that God's plan to have Jesus die means God "ordained" the evil act of killing Jesus? (Dictionary says "ordain" = To order by virtue of superior authority; decree or enact. OR: To prearrange unalterably; predestine) I can see that it means God planned, hoped, and willed for this evil act to be done in order to acheive a great amount of good. But God's not the one doing the evil, nor ordaining it.

11/8/05  
Blogger Scott said...

I don't see how bringing in the concept of a 'greater good' achieves anything for either side of the argument. Both agree that Jesus death achieved a greater good. (A Calvinist could also argue that election achieves the 'greater good' of communicating God's glorious grace to the objects of his mercy.)

This aside, the only way you get around the argument is to bring some uncertainty to God's plan, i.e. he 'hoped', rather than determined.

But even if this is true, God is hoping for an evil act to occur. Agreed, he is not the one doing the act (I never said that), but he does in some sense determine that it will occur. All the while he still holds the perpetrators responsible for their actions. Surely this is compatibilism?

11/8/05  
Blogger five star afro said...

so andrew are you saying that God is not all knowing. That prophecy is just a really well laid plan that happens to work. In which case then it is resonable to assume that God didn't know of the pharasees would kill Jesus or not.

That is a bollocks conclusion.

A more correct answer is that although God creates people and people go to hell. God has knowledge that people will choose hell but people still have control. God did not make the pharisees kill Jesus he just knew it would happen. Control vs knowledge.

11/8/05  
Blogger Scott said...

Obviously the 'five-star' in your name doesn't refer to the 5-points ;)

11/8/05  
Blogger Andrew said...

Five Star, I think God knows everything there is to know. Since the future doesn't exist to be known, it can merely be guessed at with varying degrees of certainty. I explained a few reasons why I hold that view here, and explained why I think other views don't work here. Prophecies can be statements either of what God sees as likely to happen, or of what God intends to make happen (eg see Jeremiah 18:7-10).


Scott,
I don't see anything overly problematic about hoping evil people will do a particular act of wrong in addition to those they are already doing, and holding them responsible. Consider the Police on a sting: They hope to catch the criminals in the act precisely in order to hold them responsible. However, perhaps God doesn't hold people responsible when he hopes they'll do wrong. Jesus, after all, said "Father, forgive them" with regard to his crucifixion, so presumably God did.

The problem comes when you start claiming that God is responsible for the fact that the people are evil in the first place. There's a huge conceptual difference between getting a criminal to exemplify their wrong doing one additional time, and being the one who controlled the fact of their becoming evil in the first place. In the latter you are controlling their nature, in the former you are presenting them with an opportunity to act according to their nature and hoping they will.

11/8/05  
Blogger five star afro said...

Interesting theory, I've never even heard of it before. Definately has some merit. Either way we still have free will. God is a brilliant chess player that can predict moves but does not control them.

12/8/05  
Blogger Dan said...

If we have that sort of free will, then God is not all-powerful, which means that the Bible is lying to us.

My head asplode.

12/8/05  
Blogger Andrew said...

That's a weird argument Dan. Why should that sort of free will mean God isn't all-powerful? And where in the Bible does it go into detail about God's power?

13/8/05  
Blogger Dan said...

How about "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth."?

There's a decent bit of power wrapped up in the fact that He created everything in the known universe.

13/8/05  
Blogger incognito said...

My 5c worth...

Much confusion comes from the understanding of "sovereignty". God most certainly is the being in the "most high position" with the most authority etc. But, just because He is the highest power it does not negate the free will people have to not do what He wants. In other words, in a given kingdom - they may be people who don't live by the rules of the kingdom.

Suggesting that God does not let people break the rules means He doesn't really rule PEOPLE - but robots. The point of people is that they are "like God" in the sense that we have free will and are independent beings that can truly relate to one another as such.

Given this understanding of "sovereign", I have no difficulties when I come accross verses talking about it in the Bible - so long as I don't add extra meanings that imply God fully controlling us.

16/8/05  
Blogger Dan said...

incognito, so how can we be saved?

16/8/05  
Blogger incognito said...

Dan,

That's a question I don't really have time to deal with here, but I have discussed this at lenth on my blog.

18/8/05  
Blogger Dan said...

So it's not really as simple as so many Christians believe?

19/8/05  
Blogger incognito said...

Dan,

It's not very complicated, I just think Salvation needs to be understood in an entirely different paradigm. It's seeing another paradigm that's difficult. Needless to say, I believe the Calvanistic paradigm is mutually exclusive to the paradigm in which I understand Salvation (and indeed most aspects of Christianity). Thus, explaining about an understanding of salvation without explaining the accompanying paradigm is pointless.

19/8/05  

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